This week I got to visit two amazing exhibits – one at the New York Public Library, the other at the National Women’s History Museum – both during my lunch breaks at work. Thanks to mobile technology, museum lovers no longer need to travel, buy tickets, wait in line, deal with crowds, or go on vacation to immerse ourselves in rare and fabulous collections. By moving beyond place-based collections, libraries and museums are able to reach users where they are exploring (Stephens, 2015). After all, as Stephens notes, the most unique thing in a collection is what you put in people’s hands (2018).
In 2011, The New York Public Library debuted Biblion, an app designed by and for the library in which users can virtually visit an exhibition of the 1939-40 World Fair. Biblion provides an “info-scape” in which users can explore a compilation of articles, galleries, and essays compiled by curators and scholars (Jenkins, 2011). It’s a bit like a Lib-guide but has a spatial aspect that allows stories to unfold and encourages deep exploration on a personal level. “Biblion is based on the premise that once original sources are given shape, infinite narratives emerge. We’ve referred to it as a multilinear reading experience, one in which you can jump from story to story, stack to stack, through multiple combinations of media” (Jenkins, 2011). As Madrigal (2011) noted, “what’s fascinating to me is that you don’t feel like you’re reading something about the fair, but experiencing what it’s like to tool around behind the scenes at a museum or in an archive. The impression is spatial. You chart your own path, find pieces of text, photos or video, and then assemble them yourself into a narrative of the fair”. I’m not sure why NYPL chose the World Fair as their Biblion premier but the Fair’s motto “Enter the world of tomorrow” rings true. Interestingly, Biblion’s second exhibition Frankenstein: The Aftermath of Shelley’s Circle explores the progressive and innovative ideas of some of history’s most forward-thinking literary figures.
The National Women’s History Museum was founded in 1996 and is packed with exhibits about women’s role in U.S. history. The cool thing about this museum is that it is exclusively online. Fingers crossed, legislation will soon pass to build a physical space on the National Mall. The lack of a brick and mortar space has not prevented the National Women’s History Museum from reaching millions of visitors, however. With free online access to articles, resources, and exhibits, the museum lives up to its vision by breaking down barriers to information and expanding its reach: “We envision a world where women’s history inspires all people to have equal respect for everyone’s experiences and accomplishments and to see there are no obstacles to achieving their dreams”(NWHM).
One of my favorite escapes is visiting a museum by myself. Moving through exhibits on my own path at my own pace leaves me feeling rejuvenated and inspired. I haven’t visited a physical museum in months. Limits on my time, location, and funds have stood in the way. When I do get to a museum, my three children have their own demands, which further limits my personal connection with the exhibits. Visiting these virtual museums during a brief lull at work actually left me feeling inspired and intellectually satisfied, very much like visiting a physical museum on my own. But the most innovative aspect is that virtual libraries and museums make information free and accessible, which means more people can experience history, science, and the world, regardless of the barriers of the past.
Jenkins, H. (June 1, 2011). How the New York Public Library is sharing the world of tomorrow now: An interview with Deanna Lee. Retrieved form http://exhibitions.nypl.org/biblion/sites/exhibitions.nypl.org.biblion/files/Biblion_HenryJenkins.pdf
Madrigal, A. (May 18, 2011). Did the New York Public Library just build the magazine app of the future? [blog post]. Retrieved from http://exhibitions.nypl.org/biblion/sites/exhibitions.nypl.org.biblion/files/Biblion_Atlantic.pdf
Stephens, M. (n.d.). Hyperlinked library: Mobile Devices and connections
Stephens, M. (2015). Serving users when and where they are: Hyperlinked libraries. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Stephens_ServingtheUser_HyperlinkedLibraries.pdf